Sunday, August 31, 2014

Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy

Is a book co-authored by Vasilis Kostakis and Michel Bauwens. The scholarly book is published by Palgrave Macmillan and here you may find a working draft of it.

From Part I: Capitalism as a creative destructive system

The capitalist mode of production has arguably created a political economy prone to crises. Following Harvey's vivid narration (2012, p. 5), a typical day in the life of a capitalist begins with a certain amount of money and ends with a lot more. The next day, however, the capitalist has to think about how he is going to manage that surplus capital: will he reinvest the profits or will he spend them? As long as we are not speaking about monopolies (Baran and Sweezy, 1966), the fierce competition compels him to reinvest. If he does not, a competitor certainly will. Of course, a successful capitalist profits enough to maintain profitable expansion while also living a super-luxurious life. The constant search for new terrains of growth is a premise for the sustainability of the system. Capital accumulation must expand at a compound rate: 'the result of perpetual reinvestment is the expansion of surplus production', Harvey writes (2012, p. 5). The capitalist faces a variety of problems during the aforementioned procedure. If wages are too high due to labor scarcity, for instance, fresh labor forces must be found or precarious living conditions must be artificially created, thus dropping wages, in order to keep the system in a growth trajectory. Furthermore, that new terrain of growth is enriched with the introduction of new means of production and technological and/or organizational innovations. New needs and wants are defined, distances between nation-states diminished, and the capitalist finds himself capable not only of discovering new natural resources, but also of attracting new customers (Harvey, 2012, 2010; Perez, 2002). When purchasing power cannot serve an increasingly expanding economy, new credit-based financial instruments are invented. If the profit rate is low, sometimes companies merge, creating powerful conglomerates and, therefore, monopolies. If capital accumulation does not continue, then the system falls into a serious crisis. Capitalists are unable to find profitable paths of reinvestment; capital accumulation stagnates and its value decreases. Massive unemployment, impoverishment and social turmoil are some of the potential consequences of a capitalist crisis.

From Part II: Cognitive Capitalism

Cognitive capitalism refers to the process by which information (data, knowledge, design or culture) is privatized and then commodified as a means of generating profit for capital. In this new phase of capitalism, traditional processes of material production and distribution are overtaken by the control of information as the driving force of capital accumulation (see only Boutang, 2012; Bell, 1974; Drucker, 1969; for a critical analysis, see Webster, 2006). Of course, we should be aware of Federici's and Caffentzis' remark (2007, p. 70) that notions like 'cognitive labor' and 'cognitive capitalism' represent 'a part, though a leading one, of capitalist development and that different forms of knowledge and cognitive work exist that cannot be flattened under one label'. In general, one could argue that capitalism, in the past, was primarily concerned with the commodification of material. Essential to this process was the gradual enclosure and privatization of the material Commons, including pasture lands, forests, and waterways that had been used in common since time immemorial (for an analysis of the 1700-1820 enclosure in England, see Neeson, 1993). In our time, capitalism entails the enclosure and commodification of the immaterial: knowledge, culture, DNA, airwaves, even ideas (for an account of the 'second enclosure movement', see Boyle, 2003a). Ultimately, the driving force of capitalism in our age is the eradication of all Commons and the commodification of all things. The colonization and appropriation of the public domain by capital is arguably at the heart of the new enclosures. This process is sustained and extended through the complex and ever evolving web of patents, copyright laws, trade agreements, think tanks, and government and academic institutions that provide the legal, policy, and ideological frameworks that justify all this (for a critical perspective on strict intellectual property see only Lessig, 2004; Boldrin and Levine, 2013; Patry, 2009; Bessen and Meuer, 2009). Above all, the logic of this process is embedded in the values, organization, and operation of the traditional capitalist firm.

From Part III: Towards a Commons-oriented economy and society

Plenty of attention has been gathering around the Commons (see only Ostrom, 1990; Hardt and Negri, 2011; Barnes, 2006; Benkler, 2006; Bollier and Helfrich, 2012). But what is its concept all about? As we will discuss below, echoing Bollier (2014), the Commons might simultaneously refer to shared resources, a discourse, a new/old property framework, social processes, an ethic, a set of policies or, in other words, to a paradigm of a pragmatic new societal vision beyond the dominant capitalist system. To begin with, in general it is a term that refers to shared resources where each stakeholder has an equal interest (Ostrom, 1990). The Commons sphere can include natural gifts such as air, water, the oceans and wildlife, and shared 'assets' or creative work like the Internet, the airwaves, the languages, our cultural heritage and public knowledge which have been accumulating since time immemorial (Bollier, 2002, 2005, 2009). The Commons, with a capital 'C' to highlight its (re)emergence as a powerful counterweight to government and corporate power, also includes goods that have been developed and maintained jointly by a community (Siefkes, 2012; Mackinnon, 2012). These goods are shared according to certain community-defined rules (Siefkes, 2012). Take for example the Wikipedia encyclopedia or FLOSS, with regard to certain community-driven governance mechanisms through which these projects have managed to remain sustainable, functional and productive. Therefore, it could be said that every Commons scheme basically has four interlinked components: a resource (material and/or immaterial; replenishable and/or depletable); the community which shares it (the users, administrators, producers and/or providers); the use value created through the social reproduction or preservation of these common goods; and the rules and the participatory property regimes that govern people's access to it. There is an interplay among the aforementioned components and, therefore, as we discuss below, Commons should mostly be viewed as social processes.

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